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Leverage Points: Places to Intervene in a System

Partners' Institution
Södertörn University
Leverage Points: Places to Intervene in a System, n.d. . The Academy for Systems Change. URL (accessed 11.30.20).
Folks who do systems analysis have a great belief in “leverage points.” These are places within a complex system (a corporation, an economy, a living body, a city, an ecosystem) where a small shift in one thing can produce big changes in everything. This idea is not unique to systems analysis — […]
Relevance for Complex Systems Knowledge
This is a blogpost by Donella Meadows, one of the persons behing "Limits to Growth" from the Club of Rome 1972. The post goes through the search for leverage points in complex systems, that is the points where intervention can make a change. One of the arguments are that leverage points ar "Counterintutitive" that is that people act upon them but in the wrong direction. The search for leverage points is distinct from the search of system weaknesses, rather than looking for ways to strengthen the system, leverage points is a means to change the system.

The author presents an idea for 12 different types of leverage points, arranged in order for how much change they can cause:

Constants, parameters, numbers
Size of buffer stocks, relative to flows
Structure of material stocks and flows
Length of delays, relative to rate of system change
Strength of negative feedback loops
Gain around positive feedback loops
Structure of information flows
Rules of the system (incentives, constraints)
Power to change system structure or self‐organize
Intent Goals of the system
Paradigm underpinning the system
Power to transcend paradigms

Interesting is that the major factors for shifting systems are placed in immaterial social and political parts of the system. The material factors change slowly and if addressed directly, without changing higher levels of immateriality, the impact will be minor. Each of the leverage points is describe with various examples, making it clear both how they function in the system and what impact the direction of leverage could have on system outcomes. The final conclusion is that the higher the leverage point, the more the system will resist changes. Hence system changes are tricky, at lower leverage points the impact is low, at higher, the resistance to leverage is high.
Point of Strength
The article is very pedagogic, both in explaining systems thinking. Complexity come through by presenting everyday examples and succesively adding systemic features. In presenting opportunities to finding leverage points, the article didactilly shows what is possible within the different levels and explains why from a functional systemic perspective. The article could be recommended as an introduction to any student or stakeholder interested in systems thinking and complex systems